[Air-l] democracy and culture

S Clift slc at publicus.net
Thu Jul 3 10:46:58 PDT 2003

If you are a researcher directly focused on e-democracy, e-politics, or
e-government, please drop me note <clift at publicus.net>.  I have a few
behind-the-scenes networks that attempt to connect the research community
in this niche on a global basis.

I also run a public e-mail announcement list on this topic with 2500
members from 75 countries open to all:  http://www.e-democracy.org/do

Comments below ...

> -----Original Message-----
> Charles Ess
> Sent: Tuesday, July 01, 2003 6:21 AM
> To: aoir list
> Cc: Liza Tsaliki
> Subject: [Air-l] democracy and culture
> Colleagues:
> I've been engaged in an interesting debate via e-mail with a colleague in
> the U.K. regarding a claim in a recent article, i.e., that in addition to
> well-known examples of organization via the Internet, etc., it takes
> _bodies_ to bring about significant political change, as in the cases of
> Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and elsewhere.

The use e-mail and SMS in the Philipines is well documented:
A member of their Congress once told me that SMS was the best way to find
your friends in a crowd of one million people.

The Net also played a role in Yugoslavia as well:

Bodies can be counted, the Net/ICTs can be used to organize them.

> In this context, I observed that in the U.S., the view seems to be that
> politicians are far less impressed with e-mail campaigns,
> precisely because
> they're so easy to organize, than with actual paper / postage stamped
> letters.  (The current U.S. administration's ability to ignore e-mail
> protests over the past year or so regarding Iraq is perhaps an extreme
> example?)
> My colleague responded with an example of successfully lobbying the
> government in the U.K. via e-mail regarding a procedure for classroom
> evaluation.

It depends upon the level of government.  Let's be completely honest - no
form of communication on its own has any measurable impact on a member of
Congress.  If you can't prove that issue advocacy television made a
difference (perhaps you could on Clinton's healthcare plan), why expect
that you'll find results related to e-mail.

This Pew report does show results at the local level with e-mail:

The real scam is there just isn't the political will in most Congressional
offices to ensure that general e-mail from their constituents gets through
all the clutter and spam they receive.  It is easier to throw up your
hands.  This is bringing about a great inequity - if you know a staff
members e-mail and have a relationship with them (lobbyists, etc.) then
e-mail is your best friend, if you are an average citizen, forget it.  At a
minimum basic CRM approaches for all elected officials at all levels need
to be researched and documented so future "will" can be matched with best

If you want the word from the government perspective, tune into the audio
comments of Christine Nelson, former Citizen Outreach director for Governor
Ventura : http://www.e-democracy.org/neoamn/  (online advocacy panel -
particularly during the q and a)  - very, very insightful) Someone ought to
do a survey of the U.S. Governor office staff responsible for receiving and
responding to e-mail and other constituent communication.  I'd be glad to
suggest some questions.

> My response in turn - I should not be surprised that, as the Swiss say,
> these things vary from canton to canton, much less from country
> to country.
> And now, the query: has anyone done a systematic, comparative
> study of how
> far electronic democracy initiatives have been successful among
> a range of
> countries - especially with a view towards uncovering underlying cultural
> and other factors that might explain the differences?

"Initiatives" is a very strong term.  Realities might be more accurate.
I've visited a couple dozen countries and my finger in the wind sense is th
at the existing political culture has a lot to do with which aspect of the
Internet are pulled into political use.  Folks around the world watch the
U.S. closely, and we are totally clueless here about the fact that most of
non-election/non-advocacy innovations are happening elsewhere.

While the EU does fund a number of e-democracy initiatives
<http://www.eve.cnrs.fr>, they are stuck in a fairly proprietary mode where
commercial partners need to try an create a product that can be sold in the
end.  What generally happens is that they wait for the next round to EU
grants to keep on going.  (Anyone from Europe want to correct me on this?
I praise the EU, because it is pretty much the only source of e-democracy
development funding anywhere in the world.) So while I'd like to import
cool tools into E-Democracy <http://www.e-democracy.org> I can't quite
figure out how to make that works.  I should note that the U.S. foundation
community is now completely AWOL on this issue. The NSF has dipped their
toes recently at Carnegie Mellon
<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/do-wire/message/1194> with some citizen
participation technology and in e-rulemaking

As you'll note in the other replies, my fellow Americans are very Internet
and elections focused.  In other parts of the world, researchers are more
Internet and governance focused.  I'd love to get you all in the same room
and watch some sparks fly. :-)  The problem with elections, is that the
result is still always the same - someone wins and someone loses.  I think
the Internet and governance/citizen participation is where the most
excitement and need for research exists.

More:  http://www.mail-archive.com/do-wire@tc.umn.edu/msg00595.html

> (I know from her very interesting presentation at AoIR 1.0 that
> Liza Tsaliki
> has been involved in an E.U. project on electronic democracy that had to
> engage with cultural differences, hence this message is copied
> to her.  Any
> insights and results you can share, Liza?)

Finally, I think it is important to note that despite the current lack of
media interest on the role of the Internet in politics (except when Dean
raises some bucks, or MoveOn has an "e-election" - money and e-voting ...
zzzz), the reality is that more people are using the Internet for political
purposes than the day before.

The challenge for researchers is to quit patting themselves on the back for
refuting trumped up claims about what is "possible" with the Internet and
politics and instead focus on what is "probable" and what online tools,
strategies, and actions combined with which poltical approaches will help
us achieve a democratic/political goal.

The scary truth is that ICTs may accelerate our fall into democratic
disrepair, so unless ICT-based counter measures are conceived, researched,
and deployed, we will be debating just how bad the information age was for
democracy.  We'll point fingers and lament the fact that we didn't
intervene when we had a chance to shape the medium, pass laws requiring its
positive use, and most importantly, build the social expectation among
citizens that "of course" you would use the Internet to effectively raise
your voice and work to improve your neighborhood, city, state, and nation.

Steven Clift

> Thanks in advance for any advice and assistance - and in the meantime,
> cheers -
> Charles Ess
> Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
> Drury University
> 900 N. Benton Ave.                          Voice: 417-873-7230
> Springfield, MO  65802  USA            FAX: 417-873-7435
> Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
> Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/
> Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23
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